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Mills v. Berryhill

United States District Court, D. Utah, Central Division

October 25, 2017

BROOK MILLS, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM DECISION & ORDER

          Dustin B. Pead, U.S. Magistrate Judge

         All parties in this case have consented to the jurisdiction of United States Magistrate Judge Pead, including entry of final judgment, with appeal to the United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit. See 28 U.S.C. § 636 (c); F.R.C.P. 73; (ECF No. 15). Pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), Plaintiff Brook Mills (Plaintiff) seeks judicial review of the decision of the Acting Commissioner of Social Security (Commissioner) denying her claim for disability insurance benefits (DIB) under Title II of the Social Security Act (the Act). After careful review of the entire record, the parties' briefs, and arguments, as presented at a telephonic hearing held on October 5, 2017, (ECF No. 24), the court hereby affirms the Commissioner's final decision.

         I. PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         Plaintiff was 33 years old at the time she alleges that she became disabled in January 2011 due to lower back pain, bipolar disorder, depression, anxiety, diabetes, endometriosis, and fibromyalgia (Certified Administrative Transcript (Tr.) 208, 221). See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1563(c). Before she stopped working in 2008, Plaintiff was a semi-skilled service clerk for 11 years (Tr. 41, 71). The relevant time period in this case is from Plaintiff's alleged onset of disability of January 27, 2011, to the date her insured status expired on September 30, 2013. (Tr. 208). See 42 U.S.C. § 423(c)(1) (defining “insured” for purposes of a DIB claim); see also 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.131(a), 404.320(b)(2) (discussing insured status for purposes of DIB benefits).

         The ALJ followed the five-step sequential evaluation process in order to determine whether Plaintiff was disabled (Tr. 18-31). See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4). As relevant here, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had severe impairments including fibromyalgia, endometriosis, morbid obesity, right wrist carpal tunnel syndrome, anxiety disorder, depressive disorder, and bipolar disorder, but that she did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or medically equaled any of the presumptively disabling impairments listed in 20 C.F.R. part 404, subpart P, appendix 1 (the “Listings”) (Tr. 20-22). The ALJ found that Plaintiff had the residual functional capacity (RFC) to perform light work, as defined in 20 § CFR 404.1567(b), such that she could frequently handle with the right hand; occasionally climb ramps and stairs; never climb ladders, scaffolds, or ropes; occasionally stoop; and must occasionally avoid unprotected heights and moving mechanical parts. Plaintiff also had mental limitations but could perform simple, routine, and repetitive tasks not at a production-rate pace (such as assembly line work); make simple work-related decisions; and occasionally respond to the public. If Plaintiff required time to be “off-task, ” that could be accommodated by normal breaks (Tr. 24).

         After obtaining vocational expert testimony, the ALJ found that Plaintiff's RFC precluded her from performing her past relevant work, but not from performing occupations that existed in significant numbers in the national economy (Tr. 30-31). Thus, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff was not disabled within the meaning of the Act (Tr. 31).

         Thereafter, the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review (Tr. 1-6), making the ALJ's decision the Commissioner's final decision for purposes of judicial review. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.981. This appeal followed.

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         The Court “review[s] the Commissioner's decision to determine whether the factual findings are supported by substantial evidence and whether the correct legal standards were applied.” Mays v. Colvin, 739 F.3d 569, 571 (10th Cir. 2014) (internal quotation marks omitted). Substantial evidence is “more than a mere scintilla, ” or such evidence as a “reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Lax v. Astrue, 489 F.3d 1080, 1084 (10th Cir. 2007). “In reviewing the ALJ's decision, [a court may] neither reweigh the evidence nor substitute [its] judgment for that of the agency.” Newbold v. Colvin, 718 F.3d 1257, 1262 (10th Cir. 2013) (internal quotation marks omitted). Where the evidence as a whole supports the ALJ's decision, that decision must be affirmed, regardless of whether the Court would have reached a different result had the record been before it de novo. See Lax, 489 F.3d at 1084.

         III. DISCUSSION

         In challenging the ALJ's decision, Plaintiff asserts that the ALJ (1) did not include limitations in the RFC related to her carpal tunnel syndrome, obesity, fibromyalgia, sleep apnea, and mental impairments; (2) did not properly weigh the medical source opinions in the record; (3) erred in finding that her statements were inconsistent with the rest of the record; and (4) failed to resolve a conflict at step five of the sequential evaluation process (see generally ECF No. 18, Plaintiff's Opening Brief (Pl. Br.) at 10-16). The Court addresses each of Plaintiff's arguments and, for the reasons discussed below, finds that the ALJ's decision should be affirmed.

         A. The Residual Functional Capacity Assessment Accounted for Plaintiff's Impairments.

         The Court concludes that the ALJ's assessment of Plaintiff's RFC was supported by substantial evidence. In particular, the RFC considered Plaintiff's severe impairments, including obesity, fibromyalgia, carpal tunnel syndrome, her non-severe impairment of sleep apnea, and her mental impairments including anxiety disorder, depressive disorder, and bipolar disorder. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1545(a)(2) (ALJ must consider both severe and non-severe impairments when assessing RFC). When the impairments resulted in limitations that were supported by record evidence, the ALJ included and properly accounted for those limitations in the RFC. See Young v. Barnhart, 146 F. App'x. 952, 955 (10th Cir. 2005) (unpublished) (“The determination of RFC is an administrative assessment, based upon all the evidence of how the claimant's impairments and related symptoms affect her ability to perform work-related activities. . . . The final responsibility for determining RFC rests with the Commissioner, based upon all the evidence in the record, not only the relevant medical evidence.”). Each of Plaintiff's impairments is addressed herein.

         i) ...


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